Articles Posted in Motorcycle Accident

While visitors who suffer injury while present on the property of another person often have a reasonable chance of success in a legal action against the landowner for negligence or other misconduct, Tennessee law does construct some hard-and-fast protections for landlowners. One of those shields exists when the visitor becomes injured engaging in recreational activities on the landowner’s property. This aspect of the law ultimately undercut the personal injury case of a motorcyclist paralyzed while riding on another man’s farm.

The case centered around an incident occurring on David Dossett’s farm in LaFollette, where he maintained trails for guests to drive off-road vehicles. Dossett had erected some “jumps” on the trails to allow riders to attempt leaps or other manuevers. Dossett neither trained nor supervised the riders that used his farm. In March 2008, Jordan Wilson visited the farm to ride motorcycles. While attempting a leap, Wilson crashed, with the resulting injuries leaving him paralyzed.

Wilson sued Dossett. The trial court threw the case out, though, determining that the Tennesses Code, specifically Section 70-7-102, shielded the landowner from any liability for the motorcyclist’s injuries. That statute pertains to visitors on the property who partake in recreational activities. The trial court decided that, because the motorcyclist engaged in a recreational activity, and that none of the statute’s exceptions (which are codified in Section 70-7-104) salvaged the injured man’s case.

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A motorcycle driver injured in Tennessee seemed to face a lose-lose choice: either accept a damages award radically slashed from the original amount a jury awarded him, or endure the agony of starting over and undergoing a new trial. The motorcycle driver received a reprieve, though, when the Tennessee Court of Appeals nixed the trial judge’s dramatic reduction of the driver’s jury award, instead ordering the trial court to hold a new hearing solely on the issue of damages. The ruling offers some very helpful insight into subjective damages awards, and the boundary between excessive and non-excessive awards.

Louis Adams was traveling along Highway 27 when Megan Leamon struck his motorcycle. Adams suffered injuries including broken ribs and apparently soft tissue injuries to his neck, shoulder, and hand. However, the injuries were not so severe to cause him to miss any work. There was evidence that his injuries were permanent, however, and caused him some ongoing pain, disruption in sleep, and impaired his ability to enjoy his lifelong hobby of motorcycle riding. After a two-day trial, a jury assessed ruled in favor of Adams and assessed his damages at $317,000. The jury awarded Adams only $190,000 because he was 40% at fault for the accident. Of Adams’s $317,000 total, nearly $277,000 was for future pain and suffering and future loss of enjoyment of life.

Leamon asked the trial judge for a remittitur, which is a request to reduce the award as excessive, or else grant a new trial. The trial judge agreed and gave Adams 30 days either to accept an award of only $54,000 or else undergo a new trial. Adams accepted the $54,000 sum under protest, and promptly appealed.

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In the recent opinion in Adams v. Leamon, the Court of Appeals discussed whether an award of damages for pain and suffering arising from injuries sustained in an auto accident was excessive. This opinion provides insight into how the Tennessee courts should address the “non-economic” components of an award for car accident victims.

In Adams, the plaintiff was injured when his motorcycle collided with a vehicle being driven by the defendant and he filed suit claiming that the defendant driver’s negligence caused the accident. After a trial, the jury found that both parties were somewhat at fault, but held the defendant more at fault and awarded damages of $317,000. The damages award raised some eyebrows, apparently, because the plaintiff’s medical expenses were only $14,731. The primary driver of the verdict was an award of future pain and suffering in excess of $120,000 and future loss of enjoyment of life of approximately $156,000. The trial court believed that award was excessive, and therefore ordered a remittitur to $90,320. The evidence had shown that although plaintiff had broken ribs and minor injuries to his neck, shoulder, and hand, he did not miss any work. His main complaints were some ongoing pain, restricted movement, and a reduced ability to ride his motorcycle.

On appeal, the Court of Appeals reversed and ordered a new trial on damages only. The Court found that the trial court’s ordered reduction of the jury’s verdict from $317,000 to $90,320 essentially “destroyed” the verdict and could not be sustained. The Court of Appeals also agreed, though, that the award of $317,000 was excessive. In its opinion, the Court of Appeals quoted the Tennessee Supreme Court in discussing non-economic damages:

Damages for pain and suffering are awarded for the physical and mental suffering that accompany an injury. Damages awarded for loss of enjoyment of life are intended to compensate a plaintiff for the impairment of the ability to enjoy the normal pleasures of living. Assigning a compensable, monetary value to non-economic damages can be difficult. The assessment of non-economic damages is not an exact science, nor is there a precise mathematical formal to apply in determining the amount of damages an injured party has incurred. Thus, a plaintiff is generally not required to prove the monetary value of non-economic damages.

In pursuing injury claims in Tennessee, an injured victim and his or her attorney must at some point confront the difficult decision of how to value a claim for either settlement purposes or presentation to the jury. As the opinion above reveals, jury awards for non-economic damages are difficult to predict. A jury can award damages far in excess of the incurred medical expenses if the proof shows that the plaintiff’s life has been substantially affected. In our experience, one of the most important factors driving a jury’s determination will be the plaintiff — does the jury like the plaintiff? Is the plaintiff a deserving victim?

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Motorcycle riders in Nashville and throughout the state of Tennessee have a legitimate cause for concern: the number of traffic fatalities involving motorcyclists spiked 21 percent from 2011 to 2012. While that increase is certainly alarming, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam’s office reports that over the last 14 years, the number of motorcycle fatalities has more than tripled. Victims of motorcycle accidents can sustain a wide range of injuries, from minor abrasions and broken bones to much more serious life-threatening brain injuries and death. If you or someone you know has been involved in a motorcycle accident, it is important to contact an experienced Nashville attorney to help you understand your potential right to damages.

With such startling statistics at hand, it is no wonder that the Governor’s office announced just last spring that May is “Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month.” As part of this effort, the Tennessee Highway Patrol and the State Department of Safety and Homeland Security are encouraging drivers to be more careful when they are near motorcyclists on the roads. In addition to raising driver awareness, the report also places a great deal of the responsibility of safety on the bikers themselves.

More than 300,000 people in Tennessee ride motorcycles. State law requires bikers and their passengers to wear helmets that are in compliance with standards set forth by the Department of Transportation. Unfortunately, not every rider abides by the law. The data shows that 37 out of every 100 motorcycle rider fatalities where the driver was not wearing a helmet could have been prevented had they worn one.
The Governor’s Highway Safety Office points out that motorcyclists are in a much more vulnerable position than people in passenger vehicles. Because of their exposure and vulnerability, it is suggested that motorcyclists consider making themselves more visible to others on the road by wearing reflective tape and bright colors.
These alarming fatality statistics have struck a nerve across the state of Tennessee. According to an article in The Commercial Appeal, the city of Memphis recently created a motorcycle safety road sign that depicts a motorcycle with the slogan, “Look Twice, Save a Life.” The sign is an attempt to encourage drivers to pay more attention to motorcyclists on the road. The establishment of the sign was the result of a three-year effort waged by a couple of local motorcycle groups.

In addition to fatality rates, there are many serious injuries that people sustain while driving a motorcycle. And only recently have we learned that older riders in the United States suffer greater injuries in crashes. A study was published indicating that as a biker’s age increases, so too does the severity of their injuries in a crash. Bikers age 60 and over were found to be 2 ½ times more likely to end up in an emergency room with severe injuries than motorcyclists in their 20s and 30s. This is significant data considering that a quarter of all motorcyclists in the U.S. are age 50 and older.

With more and more aging bikers on the roads in Tennessee and throughout the country, all drivers need to exercise the most extreme caution. In the event of an accident, it is important to consult with an experienced personal injury attorney who can help guide you through the legal process in an effort to recover damages.

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